There was a time when great cities had multiple newspapers and culture was hashed out daily in the press, strongly-held opinions battling for the hearts and minds of readers. Today it's rare for a city to have more than one or two outlets where culture can be publicly discussed, let alone prodded and pulled and challenged...
Our culture is the lesser for it, as critical opinions about art, music, theatre, and dance get squeezed, and public debates about culture in the print media grow fainter. That doesn't mean there isn't great writing about culture still to be found in print (there's evidence of it every day in ArtsJournal). But the writing is one-way, and rarely do we see a good back-and-forth debate bubble up.
Now comes the internet, where a lively mob of voices has taken up discussions of culture, politics, and just about anything else you can think of. Daily, thousands of bloggers fire up their computers to register opinions, and one of the things that makes the best of them interesting is their willingness to engage in dialogues with their readers.
So what if we gathered up some of the best print critics and asked them to engage one another over an issue in a blog? Their opinions could be challenged, their ideas explained, and a lively debate might ensue.
That's what we hope will happen over the next ten days in this "topic blog" exploring the future of Big Ideas in classical music. We've invited a dozen of the best American classical music critics:
Charles Ward of the Houston Chronicle
Scott Cantrell of the Dallas Morning News
Kyle Gann of the Village Voice
Justin Davidson of Newsday
John Rockwell of The New York Times
Andrew Druckenbrod of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Greg Sandow of The Wall Street Journal
Wynne Delacoma of the Chicago Sun-Times
John von Rhein of the Chicago Tribune
Kyle MacMillan of the Denver Post
Alex Ross of The New Yorker
Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle
and asked them to discuss:
THE NEXT BIG IDEA?
If the history of music is the recorded conversation of ideas, then where do we find ourselves in that conversation at the start of the 21st Century? In the past, musical ideas have been fought over, affirmed then challenged again, with each generation adding something new. Ultimately consensus was achieved around an idea, and that idea gained traction with a critical mass of composers.
Now we are in a period when no particular musical idea seems to represent our age, and it appears that for the moment – at least on the surface – that there is no obvious direction music is going. So the question is: what is the next chapter in the historical conversation of musical ideas, and where are the seeds of those ideas planted?
Or: Is it possible that, with traditional cultural structures fragmenting, and the ways people are getting and using culture fundamentally changing, that it is no longer possible for a unifying style to emerge? Is it still possible for a Big Idea to attain the kind of traction needed to energize and acquire a critical mass of composers and performers?
On August 7th, the online discussion concludes, and four critics: Greg Sandow of the Wall Street Journal, Anne Midgette of the New York Times, David Patrick Stearns of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle will gather in Aspen Colorado at the Aspen Music Festival and School to debate the issue in person before an audience.
The event will be moderated by ArtsJournal editor and founder Douglas McLennan. The session will be recorded and excerpts will be available for streaming on ArtsJournal as part of this blog. The event launches a new Aspen initiative - a Music Critics' Institute that will bring leading critics together each summer to discuss issues important to music.
Culture doesn't exist in a vacuum. In order for culture to flourish, audiences (and critics) must vigorously engage with it, challenging the artistic impulse to explain the world.
This blog is the first of what I hope will be many more online cultural debates on ArtsJournal. I welcome your participation in the discussion and would appreciate any suggestions you may have.
Here to go to the Blog